As L.A. Tackles Procurement Reform, the Watchword is "With"

As a member of the City Accelerator program, the city of Los Angeles has made great strides in reaching out to its diverse local business community and helping those firms do more business with the city.

LA procurement event
The city hosted a contracting informational event -- including a "Shark Tank"-style pitch event -- in May.
(Rambo House/City of Los Angeles)
The following blog post by the City of Los Angeles, a current City Accelerator participant, is part of the City Accelerator initiative, a collaboration between the Citi Foundation and Living Cities that aims to speed the adoption of innovative local government projects within and across cities that will have a significant impact on the lives of their residents, especially those with low incomes.


Public procurement isn’t flashy. It’s definitely a back-of-the-house operation. But it plays a vital role in a city’s ability to serve its constituents.

Unfortunately, navigating the maze of systems and regulatory requirements requires time and expertise, leading many firms to avoid working with governments altogether. Other businesses find they must invest in a third-party advocate or dedicated personnel to navigate the process. That is the case for all businesses, but those challenges are magnified when it comes to small and minority-owned businesses.

That’s why Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has made procurement reform one of his top priorities since taking office in 2013.

One main step toward reform came with Garcetti’s appointment of the city’s first-ever chief procurement officer, Michael Owh.

But the other major procurement initiative has been a new focus on targeted initiatives to expand outreach and engagement of small and diverse businesses, to demystify the procurement process through a series of events focused on doing business “WITH” the city. Over the course of a year, these events -- GrowWITH, BuildWITH, BuyWITH and ContractWITH -- were essentially matchmaking events akin to speed-dating sessions that introduce diverse small contractors to prime contractors and public agencies within the city of L.A.

Each event focused on a specific aspect of the procurement process, and each was tailored to match the specific needs of certain kinds of firms.



In September 2017, the Los Angeles Office of Finance hosted an evening business conference at city hall for women business owners, to educate them on the resources the city offers to help them grow their business and the opportunities to compete for government contracts. In addition to networking opportunities, the event included a seminar and a panel discussion. The city’s 

Business Experience Unit built an aggressive social media campaign around the event, and used attendee surveys to help inform future events and initiatives.



Our construction-focused BuildWith event, held in February 2018, was an all-day forum for prime contractors to meet with small and diverse construction-related firms to discuss opportunities to partner on upcoming public and private contracting opportunities. The office of the mayor partnered with the Office of City Councilman Curren Price, the Board of Public Works, the Office of Finance and the South Los Angeles Transit Empowerment Zone to host the event. Public agencies were on hand to offer assistance in areas like business license and tax information, trainings on how to complete various types of diverse business certifications, and how to business with the city and with the state of California. 

The inaugural forum was an overwhelming success, with more than 500 attendees from the public and private sectors. We worked with groups like the National Association of Minority Contractors, the Black Business Association, the Latin Business Association and the U.S. Small Business Administration to help publicize the event and ensure we were reaching out to as many subcontractors as we could. Hosting an event like this isn’t easy or cheap. It required more than nine months of planning, and the total budget was just over $58,000. Some of that cost was covered by the grant we received from the City Accelerator. Most of the total—$32,000—was covered by sponsorships. The rest was paid for by subcontractor participant fees, general admission and exhibitor fees.



In May, we took an innovative approach to our second annual Commodities Vendor Fair: We hosted it at a farmers market. The fair is produced by the Department of General Services, in partnership with the mayor’s office, Public Works’ Bureau of Contract Administration and the Office of Finance. 

It was designed to be a “one-stop shop” to get vendors started with doing business with the city. All city employees were invited to attend, and some 500 registered for the event. Attendees were able to speak with city staff and with representatives from the California Department of General Services about how to become a certified small or disabled-veteran business enterprise. They could meet with representatives from the Office of Finance to get their business tax registration certificate; or discuss with representatives from the Economic and Workforce Development Department about resources available to their companies. 

The farmers market was a uniquely suited event for us to reach out to people interested in working with the city. Event participants included a mixture of representatives from local, small, women-owned, minority-owned, disabled-veteran and other business enterprises. Supply Services staff identified 22 sub-suppliers as strong candidates for matchmaking with prime suppliers. 

And it was a good day for the market vendors, too: One artisan reported a 166 percent increase in sales, and the farmers market overall saw a 41 percent increase in sales that day.



Later the same month, we hosted another event, in conjunction with Asian American Heritage Month, focused on providing local businesses with the knowledge, tools and access to information on the Personal Services requirements of the city departments. This event, known as Accessing L.A., included a plenary session on contracting opportunities, best practices and tips on doing business with the city. There was also a panel in which four small business owners answered questions about their experiences in contracting with the city.     

The event, which drew more than 330 people, also included the second installment of Koi Pond, a pitch event modeled on the ABC hit TV series “Shark Tank.” Los Angeles entrepreneurs made business presentations on their graphic design, marketing or video production services in an interactive format to a panel of city officials, who then provided feedback and offered encouragement. 

Zach Patton -- Executive Editor. Zach joined GOVERNING as a staff writer in 2004. He received the 2011 Jesse H. Neal Award for Outstanding Journalism